The side-by-side RV-6 and its cousin, the tricycle gear RV-6A were introduced in 1986 and soon became the best-selling kit aircraft to date. More than 2600 RV-6’s have flown to date, and some are still in the process of being completed!
In the 197os and early ’80s, one limit to RV sales had always been the fact that they were all tailwheel airplanes. They had no nasty habits and in many ways were easier to fly and land than many production tailwheel aircraft, but there was no denying that many prospective customers had never had the chance to even try a tailwheel and were reluctant to plunge into building one.
Installing a nose wheel solved the problem. The RV-6A featured a very simple tricycle gear, with steel rod main gear legs and a free castering nose wheel. The nose gear leg was supported by the steel engine mount and required no complicated steering mechanisms or shock absorbers. The modification resulted in very little weight gain and almost negligible performance loss…in fact; it is not unusual for a given trigear RV-6A to be slightly lighter and faster than a specific RV-6. Landing and taxi became easier than ever.
After the RV-6A was flying, Van’s designed another major change. A sliding canopy became an option on both the RV-6 and RV-6A. This proved very popular in hot climates, where long taxis under a burning sun could become very uncomfortable. Sliding the canopy back and hanging an elbow over the rail made the pilot cool in two ways! Because the tail and wings are identical on the RV-6 and RV-6A, a customer can build a great deal of the airplane before committing to a landing gear or canopy design.
Soon after the RV-4 proved that a two seat RV was a practical and exciting airplane, prospective customers began asking for a side-by-side RV.
When the demand became too big to ignore, Van went back to the drafting board. Initially he was reluctant because he believed that a wider — and inevitably heavier — airplane would suffer in comparison to the sleek centerline-seating airplanes. It wasn’t long before his quest for optimization surfaced again. Using what he’d learned from the RV-3 and RV-4, and striving in every way he knew to avoid losing performance, he designed the RV-6.
He made it 43 inches wide and gave it a generous baggage compartment behind the seats. The wing on the RV-4 had worked so well, there was no point in changing it — so he didn’t. The canopy was a forward-opening bubble that closed almost seamlessly and, like all RVs, the visibility was superb. The landing gear was the same tailwheel arrangement that had worked so well on the RV-3 and RV-4. Since a side-by-side airplane was more likely to be flown cross-country, the fuel capacity was increased.
The RV-6 made its first flight in 1985. When all the flight testing was done, Van was delighted to find that despite the wide fuselage, it was only three miles per hour slower than the RV-4! The handling qualities and STOL characteristics were so close that a pilot who couldn’t see the altered visual picture caused by sitting off the centerline probably couldn’t tell the RV-4 and RV-6 apart.
The RV–6 (tailwheel) and RV–6A (nosewheel) kit has been out of production for 15 years at Van’s Aircraft in Aurora, Oregon, but many are for sale at a budget-buy price. The kit was produced from 1986 to 2001. It’s speedy (155 knots true airspeed, according to one owner), carries two people side by side, and has room for baggage.
Look for one that represents the designer’s (Van’s) intent. Builders who add a more powerful engine than recommended, plus heavy leather seats and lots of fancy avionics, find they have a heavier aircraft with a higher landing speed. If that is the case, you’ll especially need the second recommendation: Seek training. Kitbuilt aircraft are different from the factory-built world.
Aircraft value companies don’t evaluate homebuilt and Experimental aircraft. The number registered is difficult to determine because model names often include the builder’s name. Weight is only “suggested” by the factory and can vary by 200 pounds. Horsepower can vary, as can the type of engine. Ask yourself, “What is my mission?”
THE REAL WORLD
Paul A. Rosales is an enthusiastic, high-time RV–6A owner. It took three jobs (two for him, one for wife Victoria), five years of 12-hour-day weekends, and reduced sleeping hours for the couple to realize their dream of building an airplane, but now they have flown to most of the 50 states. He also evaluates kitplane pilots for an insurance company. “Since they are custom built, no two are going to be the same, ever,” Rosales said.
When builders decide to use three-quarter-inch rivet spacing instead of one-inch spacing, they add more rivets and that makes the airplane heavier. Throw in some avionics and leather seats, and you have an aircraft with a high sink rate. If pilots don’t properly manage their energy on landing, that could be a problem in a kitplane with spring-steel landing gear without shock absorbers, Rosales said. The spring steel can take a drop from 10 feet to the surface in one second, but no more. When you flare an RV–6A, speed disappears quickly. Do that at 10 feet, as many non-kit pilots do, and you could be in for a jolt. “[The RV–6A model] just can’t take a porpoise,” Rosales said. With a 180-horsepower engine in his aircraft, he gets about 156 knots true airspeed. “Figure out what your budget is first, and then stay within that budget. Then go out and look at some airplanes. If you’re not knowledgeable, take someone with you who is. Make sure you can get in and go for a ride. What do you plan to do with it?” he said.
AOPA Insurance Services estimates a $60,000 Van’s RV–6 flown by a 150-hour (total time) pilot will cost $1,500 per year to insure. The pilot must obtain 10 hours with a certified flight instructor and complete 10 hours of solo time before taking passengers.
How many in the fleet?
That’s a difficult question. The FAA database shows an FAA-registered fleet of 2,277 Van’s Aircraft RV–6 airplanes if you search without using the manufacturer’s name. Airpac PlaneBase shows 1,319 plus 601 more if you search without using the hyphen in RV–6.
There’s no such thing as an airworthiness directive for kitbuilt aircraft, a Van’s factory rep said. Look for factory service bulletins instead. There was an RV–6A service bulletin on the nose gear to give it more ground clearance for rough fields.
Flying An Experimental RV-6A
By Fred “Crash” Blechman
It isn’t often that private pilots get a chance to fly in formation. But experienced pilots, in groups that know each other and respect each other’s flying skills, occasionally make such arrangements. Such was the case when I flew in one of two experimental aircraft on a prearranged formation flight.
It was press day for the recent Camarillo Air Show 2006, conducted by the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter 723. I’d gone out early, with Lee “Stretch” Auger, my driver/photographer, to talk to some of the pilots who’d be in the air show, and to bum a ride in one of the planes.
As a member of chapter 723, I was aware that a small number of very active members did most of the work, as in most organizations. Two gentlemen, who are always evident and involved with chapter 723 activities, are Norm Hall and Don Miller. I flew with Norm in an RV-6A, as he flew in formation with Don, flying his RV-6, with Stretch aboard.
Before telling you about the unusual flight, let me first tell you about these two homebuilt experimental aircraft, and then I’ll relate some details about the pilots.
What are “homebuilt experimental aircraft?” These aircraft are built in garages or airport hangars by individuals who designed their own aircraft, or by those who bought kits or detailed plans. The aircraft carry an “experimental” classification, because the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t certify them as production airplanes, like a Piper or Cessna. When completed, they’re properly inspected and flight tested, but still carry the “experimental” designation.
Both planes we flew that day were powered by Lycoming O-360 180-hp engines, and were built from kits provided by Van’s Aircraft. The RV-6 is a single-engine low-wing airplane, with a clear slide-back canopy, a fixed landing gear and a cabin with two side-by-side seats. Don Miller’s RV-6 has a tailwheel, while Norm Hall’s RV-6A has a rudder-steerable nosewheel. H.B. Hutchinson built this RV-6A, which won the Lincoln Award at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2001, the year the plane was completed.
Norm Hall was never a military pilot, yet he has accumulated about 10,000 pilot hours. He’s an instrument-rated commercial pilot, single and multi-engine, has an air transport pilot rating and is a qualified helicopter and glider pilot. He also has 36 hours in a Polish Iskra jet trainer and is building a 70 percent scale Stewart S-51—a P-51 replica.
Don Miller, a degreed aeronautical engineer, is a private pilot with power and glider ratings. His present RV-6 is the second experimental airplane he’s built. He and a partner designed and built the first in the 1970s, a single-seat, Volkswagen-powered, all-metal biplane he called Cricket. Sold in 1977, it’s still on the FAA registry. Don began building his RV-6 from a “quick-build kit” at the end of 2000, and first flew it in September 2005. He and his wife, Martha, flew it to Colorado this past summer.
After Norm and Don had preliminary discussions about where to fly, and after selecting plane-to-plane flight frequencies, we boarded our respective aircraft. With roll-back canopies, it was easy to embark. Stretch climbed into the right seat of Don’s beautifully decorated RV-6, while I entered the left seat of the RV-6A. Normally, the left seat is for the pilot in command, but in this aircraft, the original builder provided all the main flight, navigation and engine instruments for the command pilot’s use from the right seat.
Norm entered the right seat and helped me figure out the quick-release, five-way seat and shoulder belt arrangement. I couldn’t be more impressed with the clean design of the instrument panel, the fine upholstery, the comfortable seat and the excellent visibility from the cockpit. All the flight controls were readily accessible, and I could easily see the flight control instruments to my right.
The plan was to taxi out with Don going first, check the engines and take off one right after the other, joining up as we climbed. It would’ve been simple, except that just as Don took off, several planes called for landing clearance, and the tower held us on the ground for about five minutes. As we waited on the approach to the runway, Don’s airplane disappeared in the haze.
When Norm finally got clearance, we took off from Runway 26, airborne at 70 miles per hour, with 2,600 rpm and 29 inches of manifold pressure. We climbed at 2,000 feet per minute at 110 miles per hour and leveled off at 2,500 feet, cruising at 160 mph, 2,300 rpm and 23 inches of manifold pressure.
Haze was up to about 3,000 feet, limiting visibility to about five miles, so we couldn’t see Don’s aircraft. As we headed toward the Pacific Ocean, I took the controls while Norm switched to the plane-to-plane frequency, to establish a rendezvous location. We decided to meet somewhere near the Ventura Fairgrounds, along the coast.
Cruising along, I was impressed with the RV-6A’s ease of control and the outstanding visibility from this little fighter-like aircraft with its “bubble” canopy. I did some banking, and found the controls responsive, needing very little rudder to stay in balanced flight.
Finally, we spotted Don’s plane at the two o’clock position, flying a straight course that would cross below us at a 45-degree angle heading left. Ideally, if he’d been in a left turn, it would’ve been easy to rendezvous, but Don was flying straight. I dropped the nose and made a sharp left turn to match his flight path and altitude. We slowly caught up with Don’s RV-6 and Norm took the controls as we moved to his right side.
By now, we were over the Pacific Coast, headed toward Santa Barbara. We continued until we spotted Santa Barbara Airport, then we turned around. Don took off on his own, and I took the controls and flew us back, at 2,500 feet, banking as necessary to closely follow the rugged coastline to the Ventura Fairgrounds. I took a heading for Camarillo Airport, passing south of Santa Paula Airport, where Don rejoined us and took the lead.
We intended to make a two-plane “fighter” break over the Camarillo Airport runway, and Norm took over for the planned close formation, break and landing—but the tower had too much traffic, and wouldn’t give us permission for a formation flyover or break. Norm took an interval on Don, and came in on a long straightaway to a smooth landing, as Don turned off ahead of us onto the taxiway. Another fun flight!
The Van’s RV-6 and RV-6A are two-seat, single-engine, low-wing homebuilt airplanes sold in kit form by Van’s Aircraft. The RV-6 is the tail-wheel equipped version while the RV-6A features a nose-wheel. The RV-6 was the first aircraft in the popular Van’s RV series to feature side-by-side seating and the first to offer a nosewheel option. It was first flown in 1985. Over 2500 kits have been completed and flown.
Van’s Aircraft designer, Richard VanGrunsven, designed the RV-6 series as a two-seat side-by-side development of the RV-4, which was itself a development of the single seat RV-3.
Market demand motivated VanGrunsven to design the RV-6 and offer it as an optional nosewheel design. The original two seater RV-4 has been a remarkable success, but the tandem seating configuration was not considered ideal by many potential owners as it leaves the passenger isolated in the back seat. Many spouses of builders especially favoured the side-by-side configuration over the tandem arrangement.
VanGrunsven worked diligently to create a side-by-side design with a generous 43-inch-wide (1,100 mm) cockpit that did not sacrifice the RV-4’s handling, STOL performance and especially its high cruise speed. In the end the RV-6 prototype produced cruise speeds that are only 3 mph (5 km/h) slower than the RV-4 with the same engine.
The first RV-6s had a forward hinged canopy design. This was a simple one-piece arrangement, but it made taxiing the aircraft with the canopy open more difficult. Later kits had the option of a rearward sliding canopy that could more easily provide ventilation on the ground. One RV-6A was modified for open cockpit flight with an enclosed rear turtledeck.
The RV-6A version features steel rod landing gear with the nosewheel strut attached to the engine mount. The nosewheel is friction castering and the aircraft is steered with differential braking. The brakes are mounted conventionally on the rudder pedal toes.
Specifications RV-6 – 180hp
Capacity: one passenger
Length: 20 ft 2 in (6.15 m)
Wingspan: 23 ft 0 in (7.01 m)
Height: 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m)
Empty weight: 965 lb (438 kg)
Gross weight: 1,600 lb (726 kg)
Fuel capacity: 38 U.S. gallons (140 L; 32 imp gal)
Powerplant: 1 × Lycoming O-360 four cylinder, four-stroke, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed aircraft engine, 180 hp (130 kW)
Maximum speed: 210 mph (338 km/h; 182 kn)
Cruise speed: 199 mph (320 km/h; 173 kn)
Stall speed: 49 mph (79 km/h; 43 kn)
Range: 720 mi (626 nmi; 1,159 km) at 75% and 8000 feet
Service ceiling: 25,700 ft (7,800 m)
Rate of climb: 2,275 ft/min (11.56 m/s)
Wing loading: 14.5 lb/sq ft (71 kg/m2)